Midsummer is the celebration of the summer solstice. It was called "St. John's Night" by the christians. As the shortest night of the year, it was (and is) particularly a time of rejoicing for the Northern peoples. Being a solstice feast, its date is slightly variable, ranging from the twentieth to the twenty-third; however, it is usually Midsummer's Eve on which the celebrations are held, and it is this night which is the night of the greatest magic.
Traditional Midsummer celebrations have much in common with those for Ostara and May Day. In Sweden, a "maypole", tree, or post is also put up at Midsummer's. Olaus Magnus, writing in 1500, mentions that folk went to the midsummer-tree to pray that the field might be given growing-strength and laid a cross of leaves on the field so that it would grow with god's help without being harmed by lightning, thunder, or hail. In Heathen days, such a rite might have been done while calling on the help of Þórr to ward the fields and hallow them with his Hammer so that they could grow.
In Skåne, the Midsummer-wreath was a large wreath made of all the flowers and plants that grew in the area, tied to hang from a pole that two men or boys carried on their shoulders. Beneath the pole was a paper image of a hen on her eggs. The two "wreath-boys" were accompanied by six to twelve "wreath-girls" in their procession around the village. In Jutland and Skåne, it was also common for girls and boys to give each other wreaths to wear this night as a sign of their affection (Olrik and Ellekilde, Nordens Gudeverden, pp. 678-79).
Fires are very important to this festival as well: Grimm comments that "in the north of Germany (the fires) take place at Easter, in the south at Midsummer...it all turns upon whether the people are Saxon or Frank...Some countries, however, seem to do homage to both, as Denmark and Carinthia" (Teutonic Mythology, p. 615). The chief difference he notices overall is that the Easter fires are usually set in mountains and hills - wild places - while the Midsummer fire was usually made in streets and marketplaces (p. 626). In Denmark, the "St. John's Fire" is supposed to be burnt on a howe or other high place; hay or rye was an important part of this fire, and in some places a hay-dolly called the "Child" was cast on the flames (Troelsen, Nordisk Bondereligion, pp. 70-71). The Norwegians also burned a manlike figure of straw, called "kallen" (the carle, the old man) or "kællingen" (the carline, the old woman) (Olrik and Ellekilde, Nordens Gudeverden, p. 671). Sun-wheel fires, like those of Yule, are also burned on Midsummer's; Grimm tells us that the town of Konz made such a wheel which was rolled flaming down into the Moselle, and that if it was alight when it went into the river, that was a sign of a good wine-harvest and the cause of great rejoicing (Teutonic Mythology, p. 620). The Scandinavian Midsummer-fires were very often burned on howes or high places; Olrik and Ellekilde cite in particular a seventeenth-century reference to "Ildhøj" ("fire-howe") on which these flames were kindled to drive out the witches, now that harvest was nearing (Nordens Gudeverden, p. 670). Grimm also mentions the common practice of casting herbs into the Midsummer's fire, and of leaping over it, as is done on Waluburg's Night.
In modern Ásatrú, as spoken of in the chapter on Worship, some groups have taken to burning models of Viking ships for this festival. This may be somewhat influenced by Balder's burning ship-funeral, or it may simply be a fiery hallowing of one of the greatest signs of the Northern culture.
In Denmark, before the Sun goes down on Midsummer's, it was traditional to "adorn" or "birch" the flax fields by putting up greenery (especially poplar). The length of time that the leaves stayed green was a sign of the life of the flax; the poplar was also supposed to ward off those witches who wasted the flax crop (Troelsen, Nordisk Bondereligion, p. 68). The Norwegians, Swedes, and Swedish Finns hung leaves and flowers of all sorts, especially rowan, all over the house to protect it on this night. Cows were adorned with wreaths put about their horns; afterwards the wreaths were hung in the barn until the next year (Olrik and Ellekilde, Nordens Gudeverden, pp. 676-77). In modern times, this was remembered as a ward against witchcraft, but could well have been a blessing of the beasts as well; there are several descriptions in the sagas of cows receiving special worship, and "Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar" mentions the gold horns of the hof-cattle.
All herbs are at their mightiest when picked on Midsummer's Eve. This was the night on which "St. John's Wort" was plucked, and could be used for various sorts of foretelling. It is said that if you sit under an Elder tree at midnight on Midsummer's, you will be able to see the riding of the "King of Fairyland" and all his host (Grieves, A Modern Herbal) - that is, the alfs, perhaps with Fro Ing at the head of the train. Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream was also (loosely) based on English folklore of a similar sort.
Midsummer Night is the mightiest night in the year for drawing water from hallowed streams or wells; the dew that falls this night is supposed to be used for healing eyes. Those who go fasting and silent to a northward-running stream on this night will be able to see their future spouses in the water at sunrise (Olrik and Ellekilde, p. 683).
In modern Ásatrú, Midsummer's is especially associated with the Þing, due to the fact that the Icelandic Alþing was held in the summertime. It is also thought of as a feast at which Tiw should be hailed; Midsummer's is the bright half of the axis-pole of the year, and the Midsummer-tree might well be seen as the embodiment of the Irminsul.
Midsummer is clearly a feast of the Sun in her strength; many folk today also hail Balder in his brightness at this time.
This feast should be done outside if possible, somewhere where a bonfire may be kindled. You will need a fire of nine kinds of wood (including juniper, if possible), horn, blessing-bowl, mead (by choice) or other drink, sprinkling-twig, a roughly human-shaped figure of straw (the Carle), a Midsummer-pole or -tree set up beside the fire, and sprigs of mugwort (if possible) or other plant for everyone. The rite should begin a little before sunset. Lots are drawn beforehand among the women to see who will dance with the Carle. If you would rather, a ship can be used instead of the Carle; an alternate form of the rite is given here.
I. Godwo/man does Hammer-Rite.
II. Godwo/man stands in elhaz stance (feet together, hands and head raised) and calls:
Hail thee, Sunna! shining in might,
driving thy horses on high.
Early-Wake, All-Swift, awesome, forth gallop
drawing the shield-maid stark
around her holy ring.
Hail thee, Tiw! at Thing-tide's height,
by Irminsul, ur-old tree.
One-Hand, Wolf-Binder, worthy oath-payer,
hold thy high seat here!
Hail thee, Fosite! at fount of law,
standing by flowing spring.
Bridge-builder, wise one from bright Glitnir's heights,
reach out with holy rede,
awe us with axe's stroke.
Hail to thee, Balder! bright in remembrance,
shining in sig and frith.
At height of hope on hallowed Midsummer's,
we bless thee, hero bold,
we hail thee in halls hidden,
strength to the seed of life!
Hail thee, Heimdallr! from Heaven-Berg gazing,
white-shining watchman of gods,
high-minded horn-god, at height of all lightening,
brighten the Rainbow Bridge here,
stream down to us God-Home's strength.
Thonar, ward us through summer's height,
against all harm of hail,
Frija, bless us while flax is growing,
Sif's hair shines in the fields,
Gerðr's breasts decked brightly,
Fulla gives freely to all.
Fro Ing and Frowe fires shall kindle,
growing great through the land,
where alfs are riding all are singing,
green shall our fields grow!
III. The Godwo/man kindles the fire, saying,
Now dance in ring around the flames,
Dance to might of Midsummer high!
Dance in weal woe dance out,
Dance to gladness of gods all here!
IV. The Folk all dance about the fire and the Midsummer-tree. If they have made wreaths, the men and women may crown each other with them at this time. The woman who drew the marked lot must dance with the Carle. As the folk dance, they cast their twigs into the fire, saying,
"All woe burn away with these leaves!"
A large Midsummer-wreath may be borne about the fire and the tree at this time.
V. When the dance begins to slow, the Godwo/man should stop and fill the horn with mead. S/he should hold it up, saying,
Eagle's flood glittering falls down here,
seed of Sig-Father's beak.
Wodan, awake us with Wod-Stirrer mead!
Thy eye gaze on us this eve,
light with thy lore this night.
All of the Ases'-Garth, awesome, shares
the Wans, all wise, have their share.
Here we drink to the holy gods,
with might that roars through mead.
VI. Each person then makes a toast to one or more of the god/esses. The Godwo/man pours what is left into the bowl and signs it with Sun-Wheel, Hammer, and Walknot. S/he sprinkles the sundry items as named with the mead, saying,
"I hallow the harrow this holy night. Midsummer-tree, I hallow thee! I bless thee, Carle (or "longship"), given as gift; I bless the fire that burns. Here I bless all the airts - "
s/he sprinkles in the eight directions,
"those above and those below. I bless all the folk gathered here."
S/he sprinkles each of the folk in turn.
"I give this gift to you, gods and goddesses all!"
S/he pours the blessing over the Carle (or ship) and the tree. If there is a lot of mead, and the Carle is a small figure, care should be taken that he is not so well-soaked that he will not burn.
VII a. The woman who danced with the Carle lifts him up, saying,
"I bring my bridegroom, my Midsummer-man, holy and blessed for the gods. Let him be given, that green grow the earth, that well may wax all our works!"
b. Two men come forth and lift up the ship. One of them, or both together if they have practiced and can do it well in unison, say,
"We bring the ship to the shore; we turn its prow towards wide ways. Forth sail it, flaming, a gift to the gods - that green shall grow the earth, that well may wax our works!"
VIII a. The Godwo/man sets a hand on the Carle, speaking or whispering a bidding or thanks to the god/esses. Each of the folk comes up to do so in turn, till all are touching the Carle. The Godwo/man says,
"So we all give Midsummer-man! We heave him up for the high ones..."
The folk all swing the Carle up and down once...
"We heave him up for the holy wights..."
They swing him again...
"For gods and goddesses all!"
They swing him up and toss him into the fire. As he burns, all cheer and hail him.
b. The Godwo/man sets a hand on the ship, speaking or whispering a bidding or thanks to the god/esses. Each of the folk comes up to do so in turn, till all are touching the ship. At this time, folk may have written their requests or thanks in runes on strips of paper, with which they may load the ship. Other small flammable gifts, such as stalks of grain, flowers, amber beads, and so forth, may also be put into the ship at this time. The Godwo/man says,
"So shall the ship be launched! One heave for the high ones..."
The folk all swing the ship up and down once...
"One heave for the holy wights..."
They swing it again...
"For gods and goddesses all! Let the ship fare forth!"
They swing it up and toss it into the flames. As it burns, all cheer and hail it.
IX. When the tallest flames have died down, the Godwo/man leads the folk in leaping over the fire. The feasting and drinking begins. Folk may toss pieces of their food and spill drops of their drink into the Midsummer flames as small offerings, or lay them before the foot of the Midsummer-tree. Food and wreaths may also be hung from the branches of nearby trees as gifts to the alfs.
X. The Midsummer fires should burn all night. If this is not possible, when they are put out - which, as usual, must be done thoroughly so that there are no live embers left behind - the Godwo/man should say,
"Though stilled in the Middle-Garth, burn yet in our souls - Midsummer fire holy, Midsummer fire high. Light us through summer, in love and luck - Midsummer fire holy, Midsummer fire high. Kindle our coals as we quench your light - Midsummer fire holy, Midsummer fire high!"